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CDC: Cruise Lines Could Resume Sailings From U.S. By Mid-July

Cruise ship at  Port Tampa Bay
Jonah Hinebaugh/WUSF Public Media
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U.S. cruises have been shut down by the pandemic since March 2020.

The CDC released a letter that outlines guidance, along with a potential restart date for cruises departing from U.S ports this summer.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has told cruise lines its requirements for them to begin sailing again -- safely.

In a letter from the CDC to cruise lines, sailings could begin passenger voyages from U.S. ports as early as mid-July, depending on their compliance with the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order.

The initial sailing order was set in late October, however, cruise operations have been waiting for further guidance since.

The first cruises to leave port will be test sailings designed to show that ships and crews are in compliance with CDC standards and able to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 onboard. Mock voyages will take place with volunteers prior to cruise’s maiden voyage.

USA Today reports, that to allow a resumption of sailing, the CDC added five clarifications to a sailing order sent earlier in April:

  • Ships can bypass the required simulated test voyages carrying volunteers and jump to sailings with paying passengers if 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated.
  • CDC will review and respond to applications from cruise lines for simulated voyages within five days, a review previously expected to take 60 days.
  • CDC will update its testing and quarantine requirements for passengers and crew on sailings with paying passengers to align with the CDC's guidance for fully vaccinated people. So, for example, instead of taking a PCR lab test ahead of boarding, vaccinated passengers can take a rapid antigen test upon embarkation.
  • CDC has clarified that cruise ship operators may enter into a "multi-port agreement" rather than a single port agreement as long as all port and local authorities sign the agreement.
  • The CDC has clarified guidance on quarantine guidelines for passengers who may be exposed to or contract COVID-19. For example, local passengers may be able to drive home and passengers who have traveled by air to cruise may quarantine in a hotel.

While the CDC set a potential restart date for cruises departing from U.S. ports this summer, that doesn't mean that the restrictions on cruises are lifted. In order to resume passenger sailings, each ship must earn a "COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate" from the CDC."The timeline for resailing is dependent on the cruise operators’ pace and compliance with the Conditional Sailing Order," spokesperson Caitlin Shockey told USA TODAY. "Ships with a vaccination attestation will be able to bypass simulated voyages, speeding up the timeline for those operators."

Ships that do eventually embark must follow the following criteria:

  • A COVID-19 response plan that is complete and accurate.
  • No confirmed cases of COVID-19 or COVID-19-like illness for 14 days, as determined by a qualified medical professional.
  • Submission of a signed attestation for commercial travel.

Cruise lines still need to establish additional safety measures before sailing with passengers is permitted to resume.

Major mandatory changes will take place with such procedures as boarding, dining, entertainment, sanitation, ventilation, and quarantine.

One question that remains to be answered, at least in Florida, is how the industry will handle vaccinated passengers. Some cruise lines have already announced that they will require passengers to be fully vaccinated.

However, Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an executive order banning businesses from requiring such documents.

And earlier this month, DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a lawsuit against the CDC, asking a federal judge to lift those restrictions.

The CDC will continue to update its guidance and recommendations about COVID-19 and cruise ships.